AofA interview: Topaz Chanteuse – Performer, Singer

5 mn read

In 2017, Suzanne and I were in NYC and we thought we’d do a Flamboyant Tour of the Subway there. Not many ‘flamboyants’ turned up but Topaz Chanteuse capped us all with her purple and black feather headpiece to die for and matching vividly mauve hair. 84-year-old Topaz rapidly turned into our AoA poster woman. She is so funky and so out there, she decorates her walker with tinsel. She retired when she was 62 from the 9-5 world and she’s always been a singer and performer. And she’s still performing.

This July Suzanne was visiting once more and we were determined to get Topaz on tape. Here she is in all her magnificence.

Suzanne: So you’ve had a quite a life so far.

Topaz: Yeah, I think I’ve had three lives actually so far.

Suzanne: Do you think that everybody should have three lives?

Topaz: Oh it worked for me, I highly recommended it but I don’t know if everyone can do it. You have to be very adventuresome, you have to be willing to leave a marriage if it’s not working which is what I did at 45. So many women stay married and they’re both miserable and it makes no sense.

Suzanne: Men as well. It’s funny because we just posted an article about a woman who went out with lots of married men, most of whom were long-term married. I think that 90% of what stops people from having adventurous lives or doing what they want is just fear.

Topaz: Fear of the unknown, fear of trying a different ethnic group; I had a black period (only black men) for about 15 years and I thought I’d never go back and then I met a nice white Jewish guy in Jamaica. I used to go to Jamaica every summer on my vacation to meet black men and I met a nice white Jewish guy with dreadlocks instead. We had the greatest sex. That was my turning point that started another life. I think I may have had four lives.

Suzanne: So did you always live in New York?

Topaz: I was born in the Bronx, grew up in Brooklyn (my parents moved there when I was an infant) and couldn’t wait to get out of New York…out of Brooklyn and move to New York the city so I got married and we moved to New York right away. I’ve been here ever since.

Suzanne: So you were here in the 70s when there were the leather bars. I never went to Plato’s retreat but it was one of those places you had to go. My  younger self used to think that looks really fun but scary.

Topaz:  Now I did go to Plato’s because I was divorced by then. It was very nice until I was there with my then-boyfriend and I still remember and we swam in this pool where everybody was f****** and then we stayed so late the lights went up and we saw how filthy the place was. The pool, in particular, was so scummy and disgusting so I never went back, only once and for me, it was a nightmare. I loved the whole experience until the lights went up and then it was really bad.

Suzanne: I missed all of that, the last time I was here Rose and I went and a met a photographer that goes around the meatpacking district and shows you all those clubs and tells you intimate information about what went on. That was great and again I just felt like wow there was a period in New York where there was so much going on.

Topaz: Exactly, pre-AIDS and I was single again during that period so it couldn’t have been better. I was out looking for Mr. Goodbar almost every night – going to the bars, bringing guys home.  How I didn’t get killed, murdered, raped I don’t know. I am such a survivor I can’t believe it. I got ripped off a couple of times, you take a stranger home from a bar and you’re f****** him and then in the morning, several of my rings had gone which I left on the night table stupidly.

Suzanne: So you were married to a guy and it was like a very vanilla, very traditional kind of marriage and then there was a part of you that just got really bored of all of that and just decided that you were going to go out and explore.

Can you remember your first foray into that unknown, did you ever do for instance the Village Voice Personals?

Topaz: The very first thing I did when I left my marriage was to hang out with my best friend who was gay. This gay guy whom my husband hated and was jealous of. I said I just left my husband and he said: “Oh fantastic, come on over I’ve got a bottle of bubbly on ice; come on over.” and I went over and celebrated and from then on I became a total fag hag.

It was the summer and I went out to Fire Island and spent all my weekends there whenever I could go. I was working then so it would be on the weekends I’d go to Fire Island and dance at all the gay clubs plus sniffing that stuff, amyl nitrate (poppers). We would do poppers on the dance floor and then I would always manage to find a straight guy even on Fire Island in the Pines which was like 99% gay.

I would find a straight guy and we make out and he’d be living with another guy; once the other guy joined us so they were doing each other while he was doing me and crazy stuff. That was my first step; my transition was hanging out with gay guys, going to the gay beach and going topless. I had to learn to go topless because, before that, I would get undressed in the closet even when I was married. I don’t think he ever saw me naked, I was so ashamed of my body. So I went topless and that was such a liberating thing because from there I started going to straight parts on Fire Island and I would find a nude beach and go there and go topless and I’d meet guys. I picked up guys everywhere I went. I picked up a guy on the bus once I remember.

Suzanne: How do you feel now at 84? You’re amazing.

Topaz: Much of my focus on having fun, staying active, relevant and positive as I grow older, and inspiring others to do the same. I recently appeared in a multi-generational show – What Tammy Needs to Know about Getting Old and Having Sex. The only word I would change in that title is old. I prefer to get older rather than old. Some steps I’ve taken to make that happen include – dying my hair purple, modelling Lola’s Cargo Pants and also in the nude covered in temporary tattoos in an ad for Tattly Tattoos. My motto is – Age is the New Black.

Go, Topaz, go…

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